Monday, February 9, 2015

Gifts of Grandeur: Edward Burne-Jones' Marriage Piano, 1860

"[I] lived inside the pictures and from the inside of them looked out upon a world less real than they."

--Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, in a letter to May Gaskell

Frederick Priestly, 1860
Painted panels by Edward Burne-Jones
This and all related images courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum
The name Edward Burne-Jones immediately puts one in mind of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and theatrical images of languid, titian-haired beauties, rich turquoise and emerald hues and deceptively sparkling waters.  Burne-Jones was one of the most influential of the Brotherhood, the conductor of a beautiful orchestra, if you will.

Georgiana Burne-Jones
And, so, such an artist should have a lovely instrument.  This piano, made in 1860, is the work of Frederick Priestley, an otherwise, as the V&A puts it, unknown piano maker.  The piano was presented as a wedding gift to Edward Burne-Jones and Georgiana "Georgie" MacDonald in 1860. 

Burne-Jones decorated the otherwise modest and plain instrument's case of American oak with a scene from the Medieval Romance,  the Chant d’Amour as an allegory of death--you know, standard wedding stuff. 

In her biography, The Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, Georgie referenced a portrait of Death on the panel below the keyboard of their piano.  She described Death as  "standing outside the gate of a garden where a number of girls, unconscious of his approach, are resting and listening to music."

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